For the past two years, Donald Trump has governed largely as any other Republican president would have when it came to policy. The president successfully passed tax reform and appointed judges to federal courts that looked like they could have been picked by any Republican president of the past. It was mainly with his trade policy and his tweets that President Trump seemed different than past presidents.
I have long theorized that Trump’s normalcy and measured success over the first two years of his presidency was due primarily to traditional Republicans who influenced him and kept him on the reservation. Paul Ryan helped to orchestrate tax reform and Mitch McConnell was instrumental in getting Trump’s judges confirmed. The conservative Federalist Society seems to have actually picked most of the actual judges, although Trump deserves credit for sticking to their recommendations. White House appointees like John Kelly and James Mattis kept the president from straying too far from established norms.
Now, after two years of restraint, the influence of the traditional Republicans seems to be over. Over the past few months, President Trump has fired or forced out many of the cooler heads that surrounded him. While some advisors have richly deserved to be let go, the departures of calmer voices such as Chief of Staff John Kelly, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, and Defense Secretary James Mattis are extremely worrisome for those who want to see that America‘s influence as a world leader is preserved. Rumors that Trump is considering replacing Mike Pence in 2020 may mean the vice president’s influence is also waning.
The departure of the cooler heads seems to be partly a result of Trump’s more erratic behavior and partly a contributing factor. The president‘s behavior seems to have deteriorated since the midterm elections when the GOP took heavy losses. Since then, Trump has been forced to deal with Democrats who know how to push his buttons.
Trump trusts his own instincts above all else. As he tunes out his advisors, they resign in protest and leave the president with even fewer stabilizing influences. Essentially, the Trump Administration is in a death spiral as responsible Republicans lose their influence and jump ship.
We are now entering a phase where Donald Trump is left to his own devices with no one to check his behavior. In this phase, we can expect the president to pander to his base by embracing policy positions that he has been advised against until now. He has already signaled his willingness to withdraw from NAFTA and may remove the US from other international agreements as well. It is not inconceivable that the president will leave the United Nations. Trump’s isolationist tendencies will be on display as he brings troops home from Syria and Afghanistan. We may see retreats from Korea and Europe as well. These moves will embolden Iran, China, and Russia.
President Trump’s real passion is immigration. He previously announced his intent to try to curb illegal immigration with an Executive Order that restricted birthright citizenship. Although considered unconstitutional crazy talk by many, this idea will probably be resurrected soon along with other attempts to restrict immigration by executive decree.
We may also see a resurgence of Trump’s affinity for Vladimir Putin. Trump’s admiration for Putin always seemed to lurk just beneath the surface. It bubbled up occasionally at their summit meeting and more recently when the president dropped sanctions on a Russian oligarch and left Syria to Putin’s devices. In 2019, President Trump will probably be more open about his desire for friendship with Putin‘s Russia.
Also expect more tweets from the president. Lots of them.
Trump unchained is not a conservative. He is an isolationist and populist who veers from one policy decision to the next based on his gut. Trump unchained has the depth of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the integrity of the Clintons, and the pen and phone of Barack Obama.
This month seems to have marked a turning point in the Trump presidency. There is a tectonic shift between traditional Republican influences and Trump unchained. As the president goes off the rails, the chances will increase that Republicans will either join Democrats in an impeachment effort or seek to remove Trump from office in a 25th Amendment solution.
Fasten your seatbelts. The next few years are going to be a bumpy ride.